Kerry Wins Debate, But Candidate Images Remain Unchanged

Source Organization: Pew Research Center

10/04/2004 - By two-to-one, voters who watched the first presidential debate believe that John Kerry prevailed. But the widely viewed Sept. 30 showdown did not result in a sea change in opinions of the candidates. As a consequence, George W. Bush continues to have a much stronger personal image than his Democratic challenger, while voters express more confidence in Kerry on key domestic issues like the economy and health care.

This national poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 1-3, 2004 among 1,002 registered voters, finds Bush maintaining a 48%-41% lead over Kerry among all voters. However, the internals of the poll suggest that Bush's margin slipped somewhat over the course of the weekend, as a growing number of voters came to see Kerry as the debate winner.

When the sample is narrowed to likely voters, Bush holds a modest 49%-44% edge in voting intentions. This marks the first time in 16 years of Pew Research Center polling that a Democratic candidate has made a better showing on a likely voter base than on the basis of all registered voters. (Note: Likely voters are determined by a six-question series that measures interest in the election, intention to vote and a respondent's past voting history. For this analysis, it is assumed that 55% of the voting age population will cast a vote in November.)

The high level of Democratic motivation to vote is surprising given that only half of Democratic voters think that Kerry will win in November. By comparison, fully 85%of Republicans and even 60% of independents expect Bush will win the election.

Overall voter engagement in the campaign and the debates continues to be unusually strong. Roughly six-in-ten voters (59%) say they are very likely to tune into Friday's second presidential debate. That is nearly as many as said would watch the first debate (61%), which drew a huge television audience. However, significantly fewer voters (41%) intend to watch Tuesday night's debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and his Democratic opponent John Edwards.

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